Thursday, October 01, 2009

When fall comes to the midwest

Happy October, all. We woke this morning to the first frost of fall, and for the first time ever I didn't lose any plants. Just a few leaves off a basil.

A brief return to graduate work is taking me away from my home (and nearly everything else), but at least I get to enjoy gorgeous crisp fall mornings like this.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Putting up

The last few days have been spent preserving, as Rachel over at Hounds in the Kitchen puts it, "working in quarts and pints." Seven pints of tomato sauce are done, and tomatillo salsa is next on the list. The next good-sized batch of tomatoes we get will either be diced or quartered, depending on how big a pain it is to chop them once the skins are removed.

My dear friends Michael and Ann have recently purchased laying hens, and another family we know have been considering getting goats. While I know we are nowhere near ready for that (I would need to convince both Joe and the Gambier zoning board), part of me is a bit jealous. Mostly, though, I'm thrilled to have a slowly-growing group of friends who, in their own ways, are exploring paths that, if they aren't necessarily the same as mine, run close enough by that we can chat while we walk.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Grapes, part II

This was a delightful surprise yesterday. It looks like we'll be harvesting grapes - Concords, from the look and taste - this year. We have lived in this house for over eight years, and never once have we seen ripe grapes on these vines. We'll need to move fast so we can get them picked before the birds make a feast of them (as I suspect has happened in past years).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My day in charts

Outdoor To-Do List

Interesting to nobody but me, I'm sure, but perhaps posting these online will keep me honest.

  • Finish front gardens
    • transplant 4 ferns
    • dig up 1 dead fern
    • dig and divide black-eyed Susans
  • Clean up porch
  • Turn compost
  • Harvest tomatillos (for salsa and whatever else I can think up)
  • Keep harvesting baby cukes for cornichons
  • Mow
  • Price out wood chipper rental for a day (we have scads of small branches and brush around - enough that it may be cost-effective for us to make our own mulch for next year)
  • Clear out old veg garden and move rocks to make a fire circle
  • Clean gutters (a job that probably should be at the top of the list, but which fills me with fear and loathing)
There are probably several items missing, but it's a start at least. On rainy days I can work on planning out the expanded veg garden for next year. Come fall, I won't be able to do as much as I'd like, but I'd like to get some of the raised bed frames built before spring arrives and I want to start filling them.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tut tut, it looks like rain

And a good thing, too. The rain barrel is empty again. One or two more barrels are definitely on the wish list for next season.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Out-of-the-box Mousing

Last week, Mehitabel herded a mouse up and out the front door of our house as Joe and I were walking in. Tonight, she somehow cornered a mouse in between two window panes in our bedroom (thank goodness for tilt-to-clean windows and pop-out screens).

I suppose I can't argue with her results, but she must be the strangest mouser I've ever encountered. We've had a cat who had no interest at all in mice (Hardee was all about birds). My folks had a cat who would leave offerings on the doorstep. Hell, Gus was afraid of mice, best I can tell. But this is the first time I've ever met a cat who was both so enthusiastic and so... innovative?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


A Squash Named Audrey II

We tried to convince the Munchkin to stand behind it, so you could get a true sense of scale, but the vines were a little prickly. It comes up roughly to his waist, and spreads eight feet wide in one direction, between five and six feet in the other. Not bad for his first foray into seed-starting.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Garden notes

We pulled our first cucumber from the garden yesterday. It was a teeny little one, with the spines still on, suitable for making cornichons, although this one didn't last that long. Judging from the number of blossoms, though, I should be able to put up a nice batch this year.

I finally pulled out the pea vines, and found a few stray pods while I was at it. Barely enough for one person to eat (and probably not very tasty at this time of year), but worth saving for seed.

The big surprise of the year has been the Munchkin's butternut squash. I'd saved the seeds from a squash we got through our CSA in 2006, and then promptly forgot all about them until they turned up in a baggie in the back of our spice cabinet this spring. (Hey - at least I labeled it.) I took a few extra peat pots, and let the Munchkin fill them with potting mix and then put all the seeds he wanted into them, figuring that if anything came up, great, but if not, it's not like we were counting on them. As it turns out, we got three seedlings, of which two survived the move to the garden, and are now huge, with gigantic star-shaped yellow blooms.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Small Town Moments

Whether you live in a small town, city, subdivision, or whatever, it can be easy to forget that not everyone lives the same way you do. Changing from one to another, though? That'll bring it home but quick. And every now and again, I still have what I generally term "Gambier moments," although I suspect they crop up in a lot of little rural towns.

Our first Gambier moment occurred just after we moved into our house. The previous owners had left their lawn tractor in the barn so that they could keep up with the mowing during the year the house was on the market. Once we bought the place, Ed came by with their pickup, to retrieve the mower, only to discover that he'd forgotten to bring a ramp. We didn't have any lumber around either (having lived here for less than 72 hours), so there was no way to load the lawnmower in the back of the pickup. His solution? Drive the mower to their new house in Mount Vernon, just under 6 miles away, and have his wife drive him back to get the truck that evening.

Your average riding mower tops out at about 4mph, and this particular mower was easily 20 years old. Sturdy - possibly indestructible - but not exactly a high-powered vehicle. This was going to take him well over an hour, on what would normally have been 55mph roads, and he didn't think anything of it. I was so bewildered, I actually called Joe at work to inform him, in case there was any doubt left in his mind, that we were now unquestionably living in the country.

Many Gambier moments revolve around our tiny population. The 2000 Census tallied 1871 people, and roughly 1500 of those would have been Kenyon students, not full-time residents. Everyone tends to know everyone else, by face or by name, if not both. In part because of this, a surprising number of houses are perpetually referred to by the names of their previous owners. I don't actually know yet when the statute of limitations is up and the house gets to have your name, but I know folks who are still living in "the old Smith house" even though Professor Smith left the college over ten years ago. The collective Village memory still clings to those old names.

A dear friend who recently moved back to town after many years away had her own Gambier moment in the Post Office. Since we do not have home mail delivery (hear that Internet retailers? My home address really IS the post office box, honest!), the PO is central to daily life in the Village. My friend, having been in town all of 72 hours, was stopping through the PO with her daughters to check their box, when she heard someone address her 10-year-old by name. After a moment of confusion, she realized that her daughter had met a neighbor or two that she hadn't yet.

Of course, the people who run the Post Office (and the bookstore, and the coffee place, and the Market) know us all. Some friends once sent us a Christmas card to

Joe Murphy and Alison Furlong
Gambier, OH
We Love the Gambier Post Office!!!
It got to us. On time. It's that kind of place.

What's your "small town moment?"

Monday, July 13, 2009

I will sing a new song

I recently celebrated my 40th birthday. Some of my friends cleverly decided to stop aging while in their 20s, but I didn't have that sort of foresight. It was a pretty low-key affair: Joe made fried chicken, the Munchkin colored me a card, there were a few gifts, and I went out for a late-night drink with my friend and birthday-buddy Pamela. Pretty much just what I wanted.

My other big "landmark" birthdays have been similarly quiet. There were no massive revelations about my life and the meaning thereof, and remarkably little angst about it all. In the few weeks that have passed since, however, I did do one thing which, to my younger mind at least, would have positively screamed "woman over 40." Namely, I purchased a new bathing suit. With a skirt.

Yes, I have become a woman who wears a swim-skirt. I don't know what the male equivalent would be, but suffice it to say that, at 18 years old, I would have been appalled at the idea. On the other hand, this is the first suit I have owned in years that isn't black, so that's something.

I have also learned that the effects of the swim-skirt can be countered through numerous trips down the waterslide. So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Another harvest from the garden

We brought in our first leeks this evening. They're still thin - roughly pencil-sized - but pulling them will make room for their brethren to grow big and fat. Another plus: at this size the greens are still tender enough to eat.

I also picked the remaining peas. There weren't many in this batch, so they will likely either a) be eaten straight from the shell without cooking, or 2) be frozen along with the bulk of peas we've gotten from the CSA, so we can devote our current veggie cooking to the items that don't save well, like chard and lettuce. Oh, the lettuce. We have the stuff coming out our ears. Three gallon-bags full, and the Munchkin won't touch the stuff. On the up side, we have discovered that he LOVES the bread-and-butter pickles our friend Bruce's mom made from summer squash. I'll be hitting him up for the recipe, you can be sure.

Two of the butternut squash plants are still going, although one is definitely a bit weak, and we have a cucumber plant with blossoms on it now. There are also about a bazillion blossoms on the tomatillos, which should make for some fun salsa-making in a few weeks. Anyone else have any good tomatillo recipes?

Monday, June 08, 2009

A good weekend

We nearly finished the new paths and garden beds yesterday. We were one bag short of mulch (not bad estimating, given that we used 16 bags), and there's one fiddly bit of edging that needs to be done. It looks pretty dang nice, if I do say so, and the beds will look even better with plants in.

I also planted two hills of cucumbers, four Kung Pao Hybrid chilis, and some basil, and I may have located my lost parsley. Although the seedlings I put in were munched into oblivion, the seeds I scattered around them on a whim seem to be sprouting now. All the remaining seeds have been started, save for a few herbs I'm doing in pots. The leeks still need to be thinned and there's a ton of mowing left, but all in all a good productive weekend.

The Munchkin was a huge help throughout, spreading mulch and planting sunflower seeds with us. I wish we'd read the label on the mulch before we bought it (turns out it had a ton of nasty pesticides in it), but at least we're not using it on the veggies. If we ever get around to putting pavers on the path, I'll see if I can figure out whether it's safe to compost.

By the end of the day yesterday, we were all filthy and hungry. Joe cooked, and the Munchkin ate more than he has at a non-pizza dinner in months. After that, baths and showers for everyone, a little Tony-award-watching (Rock of Ages? - possibly the least metal thing ever), then falling into bed exhausted.

Today it is raining, so no choice but to deal with writing, I suppose. *Sigh*.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Garden notes for May

Yeah, I know it's June. I couldn't very well make my list of all the stuff that happened in May until it was over, could I? Moving on.

  • The veg garden is half in. Snap peas are going gangbusters. Round one of the watercress is done, and round two is coming up. Honestly, I'm not sure if the watercress is worth it. I love me some caldo verde (which traditionally uses kale, but also works well with a mix of greens), but that's about the only thing we use it for, and it takes up a fair bit of space - space that might better be used for collards or something. We'll need to rethink that for next year.
  • The indoor snap peas are doing OK, but not great. Tons of vine, not much actual fruit. After a few Google searches, I suspect that the potting mix I used is too high in nitrogen, and not enough in potassium and phosphorous. Luckily, the soil outdoors doesn't seem to be suffering the same problem.
  • Our last frost of the year ended up being May 19 - nearly a week after my estimate, and one day after I planted the Frenso chilis and tomatillos. The tomatillos were up against the wall of the house and I think that helped protect them, but the Fresnos didn't make it. I'm going to start a new batch of seedlings today.
  • We had a few irises, but not many. I suspect it's time to divide the clump and find some new homes.
  • A pair of bluebirds have taken up residence in the yard. The Munchkin looks for them every time we're outside. A family of robins also built a nest in the hanging fern on the porch. It made watering tricky, but I wanted to keep the eggs safe. Toward the end of the month, we started hearing peeps from the nest, and most recently I saw three very small robins perched in a row on the electrical line to the house.
  • In other wildlife news, there was a baby deer bedded down in the backyard for a few days. Gave us a handy excuse to delay mowing for a while.
  • We cut two new paths (really 1.5) in front of the house. The main path runs from the porch steps to the driveway, and the second connects that path to the back patio. In the process, we also stripped the sod from two new beds in front of the porch. No plants or pavers yet - that's the next step.
  • The leeks need to be thinned again, and soil mounded over them (to increase the amount of white).
  • We have seedlings indoors ready to go outside. A few hills of cucumbers, some kung pao hybrid chilis, some basil, and (in a bit of a shocker) some butternut squash from seeds I saved three years ago. I had the Munchkin plant them. He put five or six in one tiny peat pot, and five of them sprouted! We also have seeds for Brussels sprouts, dill, and sunflowers. I'm thinking of starting the sprouts and sunflowers in pots, too, but dill evidently doesn't like to be moved, so I'll just need to keep an eye out to make sure I don't accidentally weed it out of existence.
  • The parsley has vanished. I strongly suspect an enterprising bunny or groundhog.
  • I'm already planning next year's larger-scale garden. Raised beds, definitely

What are y'all growing this year?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Dear Munchkin,

Your second birthday included an accidental party. We hadn't planned on having a real party — just your Nana, and Grandma and Grandpa Murphy, and us, with a trip to the zoo. Then we decided you might like your friends Charlie and Luke to join us with their parents, and your buddy Pamela (she is among your favorite grown-ups in the universe). Add a cookout, and suddenly it was a party! Unfortunately, I was unable to go to the zoo with you (although everyone else in Columbus was there, apparently), but your daddy took videos and I got to hear stories about all the animals you saw. Once you got home, you had a wonderful time opening presents: musical instruments from Charlie and Luke, a laptop and tool belt from Nana, gardening tools and a book from Grandma and Grandpa. I made you cupcakes decorated to look like Oscar the Grouch, and you seemed to approve of the design, even though you identified them as frogs first. For the next week or so, any time anybody mentioned the word "birthday," you'd announce it was your birthday and ask for a cupcake.

You go to school on weekdays during the school year, a few days each week during the summer, and you love it. It was tremendously hard for me to start sending you to daycare at five months old, but finishing my MA was important to me, and at the time I was pretty sure I wanted my PhD too. Now I am close to done with the MA, and not at all sure about continuing with a doctorate, because I'd much rather stay home with you. The same guilt I had at the beginning now pushes the other direction; if I were to pull you out of school (whether to save money or to spend more time with you or whatever reason), I'd be depriving you of your friends and of a social network in which you, little extrovert that you are, thrive, and which I cannot provide. This summer, you will be back to part-time at school again, and we'll need to decide how to proceed with the next few years. I hope we choose right.

You have begun to catch my outdoorsy-gardening-tree-hugger bug, which is both a thrill and a relief. The last two summers, you have only been willing to venture into the yard if you could be on a blanket, in no danger of contact with actual grass. This year you are steadier on your feet, and while you still aren't wild about the feel of grass on your bare skin, you no longer have any fear of running about and exploring, as long as you know where we are. You are starting to enjoy digging around in our vegetable garden, and will happily announce any animal, from bird to squirrel to deer, that comes within visual range. Your only real fears anymore are the big hill on Yauger Road (which, from the vantage point of your car seat, looks like a drive off a cliff), and the swings. It will probably be a while before you get over the swings. You were this close yesterday, and as we walked over a child fell off his swing and, while he wasn't hurt, he was shaken up and so were you. As for the scary hill, we warn that it's coming you each time, take it slow, and at the end you are all smiles, proud of yourself for doing it. "Not scared anymore!" you announce. It's kind of amazing.

With your father, you share a love of anything electronic that has buttons (OK, I have that gene too), and you may be destined to become a bit of a clothes horse like him, too. Although I usually give you limited choices on what to wear, every now and again I give you free rein. This photo will probably humiliate you in front of a prom date some day, but believe me when I tell you that this particular ensemble is not the most spectacularly awesome thing you've ever wanted to wear. I especially like the striped socks worn as opera-length gloves, by the way. You choose your clothes the same way you dance, the same way you make up songs, the same way you combine foods: completely confident, and totally unconcerned what anyone else thinks. In this way, you are probably the bravest person I know, and I envy you this fearlessness.

There are many things I wonder about you, but will probably never truly know. Every now and then I try to ask, but you never answer — at least not in any way I understand. When you are chattering away at night (you actually talk yourself to sleep sometimes, and your teachers have been known to pull your blanket up over your head at naptime, like a parrot, to quiet you down) are you re-living events that happened that day? Or are you inventing possible future scenarios in your head?

How is it possible that you can be so fastidious and so messy at the same time?

Do you really remember being a tiny baby?

Why do you nearly always cry when you wake up in the morning?

How am I doing so far?

Anyhow, happy belated birthday, Munchkin. I'm looking forward to more of everything. More trips to the zoo, more stories, more morning nosh time, more gardening, more baseball games, more picnic dinners on the porch. All the new things too. A psychology professor your daddy knows told him, when you were very tiny, that kids go through a zillion different stages and they are all fantastic in some way. So far she's batting 1000.

Love always,


Saturday, April 18, 2009


It's late for Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, but our indoor peas have started getting blossoms! Pods cannot be far behind.

Oh, and I promise to blog about something besides peas in the next day or so. The Munchkin turns two today, and there's plenty of blog fodder there.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Past the worst

The cold snap seems to be at an end. It's still chilly, but not so much as to be deadly to the plants. The watercress came through just fine, and if I lost any leeks I cannot tell. We did lose my two tallest pea vines, though. Three emerged unscathed, but those two took a beating one night when we forgot to go out to cover them until around 2am. Oops.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Just when I'd put the mittens away...

You can always tell when it's the height of spring in Gambier. Today, for instance: the daffodils have been up for a week and are in full glorious bloom in the woods. The Munchkin's climber and slide are out in the yard, and play-sand has made its way onto the shopping list. The crocuses are long gone, with only their little variegated leaves as a clue to where they once were. The hyacinths are up, and the ones on the south side of the house have bloomed. I've hung my clothesline. The white star magnolia is in bloom, and the pink is ready to go at any moment.

It is 29F outside.

This cold snap should ease up soon, but I've heard calls for freezes over the weekend, too, so every evening I've been going out and giving the snap pea vines a little insulation in the form of, believe it or not, packing material. My in-laws sent the Munchkin some Winnie-the-Pooh M&Ms for his Easter basket, and the company they bought them from used a fairly ludicrous volume of bubble wrap and one of those large inflatable pads to line the box. Honestly, you'd think they were sending a Ming vase.

Whatever the environmental headache it causes in the making, this stuff makes awesome insulation for the peas. Each vine got a bit of bubble wrap, then was covered with either the box or the big inflat-a-thingy. This was especially handy, since some of the older vines had already started climbing up the lace curtain I'm using as a makeshift trellis.

I didn't get out to cover the peas that first night (34, they said. Feh), and one of the vines looks to already have some damage, but hopefully nothing lethal. The leeks aren't out of the ground yet, so I think they should still be fine, and I am sure the watercress can handle the cold.

Indoors, there are four parsley sprouts up, and three fresno chiles. I was planning on starting the cucumbers and king pao hybrid peppers this week, but they may end up taking a back seat to thesis-writing, house-cleaning, and prepping for the Munchkin's birthday. Still, I'm just itching for this last cold spell to end, so I can open the house windows, air out the place, and get back out into the garden for longer than a few minutes at a time.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Peas Progress

Our snap peas continue to grow like crazy. Last weekend I upgraded accommodations for the six largest, moving the peat pots from the old roasting pan they started in, into a window box, and built a fishing-line trellis up the window, so they'll be able to clamber their way up. I basically just planted the pots whole, although I pulled off some of the peat at the top, so the soil could be level without adding more around the base of the seedlings.

Don't they look happy? The fishing line is just barely visible here - it actually looks a little like an electrical line off in the distance or something. Since I took this photo, I've had to add some extra support in the form of chopsticks poked into the ground next to the peas. That first step is a doozy, as they say, and the vines needed a little help reaching the bottom of the trellis.

The remaining seedlings are still chugging away in their little peat pots, save for one, which just has not been able to get beyond the sprout stage. My runt was one of the soaked peas, which surprised me a little. It sent up a teeny little green sprout, just like all the others, but never took off. The rest - soaked and unsoaked alike - have progressed nicely, and are about ready for new homes. One of those will join the window box, to replace a vine that met an unexpectedly sticky end. (Did you know cats like pea vines? Me either.)

The rest, assuming I can get the planting bed dug this weekend, will be moved outside in a week or so. Thanks to some truly glorious weather, I'm pretty hopeful about that. Other chores include buying more potting mix and peat pots, and (assuming the Munchkin has recovered from the bug he's fighting) planting another small batch with him, along with the hot pepper seeds.

So - is anyone else feeling the garden itch especially strong today?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Snap Pea Challenge Update

One week into the snap pea challenge, and we already have results!

Last Sunday, I planted twelve pea seeds in ten peat pots. Eight were pre-soaked for about 11 hours in room-temperature water, and four were planted straight in without soaking. Four of the pre-soaked peas were doubled up in their pots; this was actually an administrative error, as I grabbed the wrong number of peat pots at checkout, but it made for a nice experimentation opportunity.

Yesterday, we returned from a family wedding to discover that six of the eight soaked peas had sprouted while we were gone (either Saturday or Sunday), including three of the doubled-up ones. None of the unsoaked peas have come up, although a few look like they are close. It looks as though, all other things being equal, the soaked-pea technique may have an edge, and the doubled-up peas don't seem to have suffered any from crowding, although it'll also be interesting to see how strong all the plants end up.

Eventually, some of these plants will move out to a new garden bed on the south side of the house, so they can scramble up the dining room wall. The rest will be re-potted into a window box and left in the south-facing living room window, where, with any luck, they'll climb up the window. Although I don't have any sort of support in place yet, the plan is to make a trellis of sorts out of fishing line, criss-crossing the window. If it looks feasible, I might try the same thing outside. Ideally, I'll get to start another small batch of seeds in a week or so, with the Munchkin's help, so he'll get the experience of growing his own peas too.

Joe periodically teases me about my aversion to curtains. We live in the middle of a two-acre plot, so privacy - one of the very few reasons to cover a view of the outside, in my opinion - is not an issue. Who knows - maybe this will turn out to be a happy compromise!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Countdown to the gardening pre-season

Seeds and peat pots have been purchased, starting tips researched, and lighting options considered. I am officially all set for the 2009 Cold Antler Farm Snap Pea Challenge. Fancy joining?

Seriously, y'all - it's gonna be a good time. Swing through your local hardware store or garden center, pick up some seeds and potting mix, and join the fun.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

"I don't get paid just for pushing the button..."

"...I get paid for knowing which button to push."

So goes the punch line to one of my favorite techie jokes. Up until recently I've been perfectly happy to leave plumbing jobs to expert button-pushers, but a combination of chutzpah and stinginess caused me to take on a plumbing repair this week.

The weather has been more frigid than usual this winter, and we've had a few pipe freezes, primarily in the kitchen and laundry room, where the pipes have to run through our completely uninsulated crawl space. I thought we'd gotten lucky, with no pipe bursts, until last weekend, when I noticed the carpet in front of the clothes washer was a little damp. Yes, there is carpeting in the laundry area, which is completely impractical, but that room, the kitchen, and the dining room are really one big room, and we're holding off until we can replace the floor in all three places. I didn't think much of the wet, since the Munchkin likes to help move wet things from the washer to the dryer, and it's pretty common for them to land on the floor in between.

The next day, I was putting dirty laundry into the washer in my sock feet, and noticed the carpet was still wet. Even wetter actually.


Turns out the freezes had caused a slow leak in the cold water pipe to the washer. Worse, that leak was before the cut-off to the machine, so as long as the main water supply for the house was on, there would be water in that pipe and it would continue to leak. There was good news, though: the leak was not actually in the crawl space (where it would have gone unnoticed until the pipe burst completely), and, as plumbing sites go, the space behind our pulled-out washer is relatively spacious.

I could tell roughly where the leak was, in an L-joint, and since it was small and seemed to be at the connection, I thought I could get away with patching it. Trip #1 to the hardware store (G.R. Smith Hardware in Mount Vernon - one of my favorite places) netted me a package of plumber's seal. I took it home, mooshed the two-part epoxy together, and commenced to patching. It only took a few minutes, plus an hour to cure, but when I turned the water main back on, it became clear that the leak wasn't in the connection but in the pipe itself. Bugger.

Before: This is with my attempted (and failed) patch job. Note the soggy drywall and wood. The carpet was pretty squishy.

By this time it was time to fetch the Munchkin from school. Still, I didn't want to just let this thing leak indefinitely, and we couldn't be without water for terribly long. So, the Munchkin got to accompany me on trip #2 to Lowe's (not as awesome as Smith's, but open later) where an incredibly nice guy in the plumbing area helped me find new 1/2" pipe, a new joint, the nasty cement stuff to connect it all, and even cut down the pipe into a few smaller pieces. All the while he kept reassuring me "you can definitely do this." I have no memory of the man's name, but I need to go back and thank himfor making an intimidating task seem completely manageable.

Flash forward to the next day, when I begin my plumbing attempt anew. Why wait? Ever try to get a plumbing job done with a toddler trying to help? Me either, and I don't plan to start now. Anyhow, off goes the water, drain the pipe as best I can, put a cookie sheet down to catch drippage, find hack saw, commence to cutting out the bad section of pipe. This was actually the trickiest part, since the pipe was right up against the wall and trim molding, and in pretty close proximity to another pipe and to the electrical line. I did some damage to the drywall, which was had gotten a little punky from the leak, but that's about it. Next up, check the length of the pipe and cut to fit. This was pretty much entirely by eye. Assemble the whole works dry and see if it fits. Marvel at how much it reminds one of Tinkertoys. Marvel that the fit is just about perfect. Disassemble everything so we can do it again for real.

Attempt to open cement. Fail. Attempt again. Fail again. Whack at the lid. Use one of those rubber jar-opener things. Use rubber bands around the lid. Whack again. Locate pliers. Hand cramp! Curse loudly and be glad the toddler is not home. Take a break and have a beer. Curse frequently at the irony of taking on plumbing only to be thwarted by a stuck jar lid. Make one more attempt with the pliers. Success!

At this point I was able to reassemble everything using the noxious-smelling cement product, which is just as nose-hair-curling as you'd imagine. After a few hours wait, so that the cement could cure properly, I turned the water back on. The pipe stayed bone dry.

I don't think I have ever been quite so proud of myself. OK, maybe childbirth. Seriously, if any of y'all have a smallish home repair that you've been putting off dealing with, because you don't think you know how, DO IT. Break out the hacksaw and plumber's flux and plan to get a little damp, but give it a try. If it all goes horribly pear-shaped and you need to call a plumber to do it over, you're really only out your own time and the relatively minimal supply cost (remember - you were going to call the plumber anyhow). And if it works? You save a mint and get a massive confidence boost. It only takes one small victory to make all the larger projects on the to-do list seem manageable.

Next up: installing a dishwasher.

After: The white section of pipe is the new stuff. I did a little damage to the drywall. The carpet was still pretty soggy at this point, but a few days later it's dry as a bone.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

One thousand words

I have been working on the same blog post for nearly two weeks now. Over the past few months, I have started down some sort of pseudo-homesteading path, and was feeling the need to articulate why I feel compelled to do so. Words don't seem to be adequate to explain it, though. One of my favorite homesteading bloggers, Jenna Wogenrich, summed it up by saying "It’s the honesty of knowing what I do everyday directly helps keep me alive." That doesn't quite work for me, since (given our local zoning laws) I am unlikely to start raising livestock any time soon, and the hot peppers and Brussels sprouts I'm planning for the garden are hardly what you'd call staples. Still, in that statement she gets to the immediacy of baking your own bread, growing your own veggies, being connected to the sources of your food, living a more self-sufficient - and yet, oddly, more connected - life. In her case that includes raising her own chickens; in mine, it involves a growing friendship with the farmers who raise the chickens, cows, and lambs we eat.

Food is obviously a big part of this impulse, but it isn't the whole thing. Professionally (if you can call "perpetual grad student" a profession), I pretty much live inside my own head. In our classes, we have endless debates about the finest semantic points, and what seem to be simple declarative sentences get dissected and analyzed until they have lost all meaning. There are days when this sort of work is fun, when the academic exercises feel like tricky mystery plots to solve. Then there are other times, when I feel like, if I don't get out of my brain and do something constructive, I'll explode. Writing filled that purpose for a while, and might yet again, but right now it's too tied up with all that theory. I swear I used to be able to write, but grad school has made it a paralyzing process. The homesteader's life, where the product of your work is concrete, practical, and immediately tangible, is becoming a much-needed respite from that, and one which may very well allow me to continue all that theorizing without going stark staring mad.

Which is all to say that, suddenly, it seems a little pointless to spend so much time attempting to intellectualize what is, at it's core, not an intellectual thing. Instead, I think this sums it up nicely: just out of the oven Who knows - maybe thinking in terms of pictures rather than words will help me keep this site from becoming a complete ghost town.